Jane Austen and Morality

Yesterday, when I posted the Jane Austen movie Persuasion, my friend the Unit made this comment.

I admit I’m commenting without watching the movie yet, and likely won’t. ‘Cause I read the plot and don’t care for stories of romance and female conniving. Anyway I read it ends “all’s well that ends well.”
Wiki says “Austen’s plots often explore the dependence of women on marriage in the pursuit of favourable social standing and economic security. Her works critique the novels of sensibility of the second half of the 18th century and are part of the transition to 19th-century literary realism.” I realize she’s widely acclaimed and it is my loss to not appreciate her and her works.

Well, he’s not exactly wrong, I could see myself making that exact comment a few years ago. But, as you all know, I’m more than a bit of a history geek, not to mention a romantic. I commented to him that she appeals to me as a smart-aleck and a very good user of the English language. That too is true, but there is still more.

She also speaks to us from a time when it was realized that the ideal state of human existence was to be married. I know that I was, I am not now, and my life now is far from optimal, not that I have a solution that is acceptable to me at present. Back in September, Carolyn Moynihan wrote a letter to Bridget Jones in Miss Austen’s persona. Here’s a bit from Mercator.

Dear Miss Jones,

Having kept an eye on the twists and turns of your romantic career for the past 15 years, I now hear that you are going to have a baby. I should like to congratulate you but I have deep misgivings about this news. You are not married. You are not even sure who the father is. DNA tests may settle that question, but will he (that travesty of Mr Darcy, or the new hook-up) marry you?

It is a truth universally acknowledged that a man who can get sex without the commitment of marriage is not going to be in a hurry to tie the knot, even when a baby is on the way. Mr Wickham, the “gentlemanlike” villain of Pride and Prejudice, only married Lydia Bennet with a (metaphorical) gun in his back, and I believe that shotgun weddings have not been heard of since about 1970.

I am sure you want this baby – at 43 it may well be your last chance. It may all seem like a good joke to you, and the film director will no doubt contrive a happy ending; but in reality the situation is fraught with uncertainty both for you and your child. If you consult the data, or simply read the Daily Mail, you will find that pre-marital sex, especially with more than one partner, increases your risk of divorce; and should you separate, your child will be robbed of the steady presence of a father and the optimum conditions for his or her wellbeing.

Given these real risks, and since your story is supposedly a 21st century analogue of P&P, I feel compelled to point out where you and your times have actually lost the plot – not only of my book but of marriage itself. (You will forgive me quoting from the Bible and the Prayer Book, but I am a vicar’s daughter!)

‘What God has joined together…’ I mentioned divorce. Your risk of this is greater not only because of your previous experience but also because it is so easy to get. The first big mistake in your era was the introduction of no-fault divorce. The idea that a marriage could be ended because one of the spouses walked out of it has made the whole institution appear arbitrary and fragile. Countless children have been wounded by the separation of parents who could have transcended their differences and focused on the wellbeing of the family unit.

This is roughly what Mr and Mrs Bennet did with their most “unsuitable marriage” because divorce was not an option 200 years ago; certainly not for the gentry and lower classes. And although the results were mixed in terms of the characters of their daughters, there was only one real disaster – partly salvaged by good offices of extended family and Mr Darcy. The law, religion, other social pressures and family support helped them to muddle through. […]

Honestly, Bridget, I would not want to write, or read, about any other kind of marriage. Nor would I want to see the movie.

Yours,

Jane Austen

Do read it all, and as someone who has been on both sides of this equation, I wholeheartedly agree. I’ll think you’ll see that Miss Austen’s society held women (and men) in much higher regard than our society does. Yes, it had many inequities, but it also had many uplifting qualities that we have lost along the way. All in all, I think they had it much closer to right than we do.

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About NEO
Lineman, Electrician, Industrial Control technician, Staking Engineer, Inspector, Quality Assurance Manager, Chief Operations Officer

27 Responses to Jane Austen and Morality

  1. I have to admit that I find the above comment that you tastefully respond to incredibly closed-minded. If you actually read Jane Austen you will find that she is one of the sharpest satirical minds in all of English literature; most of the film portrayals do a decent enough job of getting that across, though sometimes they do lose the bite of the novels. Her stories are certainly not simply tales of ‘romance and female conniving’; they are wickedly satirical sketches of both people and society.

    Liked by 1 person

    • NEO says:

      Well, yeah, but he’s a friend, and like me fairly old, and I hated her stuff in High School as well. Other than that, well one should not ever rely on Wikipedia, for anything beyond confirmation. He admitted later in the comment stream that he should probably read her, for exactly what you say. And yes, she even more than most authors loses quite a lot in the movie making process.

      Liked by 1 person

      • I’m glad to hear it. Apologies if I sounded a little harsh – I’m a Lit student and a big fan of Austen, and when I hear those sorts of things my claws come out! (Admittedly, I am also a later convert to Austen. It wasn’t until reading her around the age of 18 that I ‘got it’).

        Liked by 1 person

        • NEO says:

          I know, I have my subjects where I react that way, as well. Yep, I’m not sure she’s suitable for HS, at least most high schoolers, I didn’t get her at 15 or so, either. Takes a bit of life experience, I suspect.

          Liked by 1 person

        • I completely agree! Certainly an author for maturer readers.

          Liked by 1 person

        • NEO says:

          Yep. 🙂

          Like

  2. Good old English Lit… Rock On! 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    • And btw as we are reading or not reading English Lit? The Western Culture seems to be crumbling sadly! I sure hope I am wrong, but our days appear numbered, and almost literally in the West? And yes, I am something of the Watchmen type, Isa. 62: 6! We shall see eh?

      Liked by 1 person

      • NEO says:

        That we shall.

        Like

  3. the unit says:

    No apology necessary. I’m not well read. Growing up only had Hardy Boys, Tarzan, and ’50’s Compton’s Encyclopedia my older brother by eight years left me. Well, those and the Quran. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  4. the unit says:

    This again from Wiki, “The epitaph composed by her brother James praises Austen’s personal qualities, expresses hope for her salvation and mentions the “extraordinary endowments of her mind”, but does not explicitly mention her achievements as a writer.[114]” That “expresses hope for her salvation” caught my eye. I’d just read a lengthy comment discussion between Chalcedon451 and Bosco about salvation. Chalcedon451 was saying, not exactly in these words, that one couldn’t be sure he was saved. Southern Baptists believe that one does know. I’ve heard it expressed many times at funerals. Won’t call it confusion, but must be a lot of beliefs and ideas about that?

    Liked by 1 person

    • NEO says:

      Chalcedon is a Catholic, converted from the CofE via the Orthodox, and I am a Lutheran, our beliefs are as he stated. We won’t know until Judgement Day. I don’t know enough about Baptist theology to comment even stupidly about it, but it seems to me that if one knows he is saved there is little point in living according to the Word, which is what C was trying to get through to Bosco, as we all have been for years. But we have that hope, if we’ve done our best, and that is why we too tend to say that at funerals. Clear as mud, what? 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

      • the unit says:

        Well, hell must be a much bigger place than Heaven if only 100,000 gonna make it. 🙂

        Liked by 1 person

        • NEO says:

          Ain’t that the truth, or hellishly crowded, I suppose! 🙂

          Liked by 1 person

        • the unit says:

          Hellishly crowded probably, but Maya might would say…”plenty of time to look for a parking space.” 🙂

          Liked by 1 person

        • NEO says:

          🙂

          Liked by 1 person

      • Wow, to compare Lutherans, R. Catholics, Eastern Orthodox and the CoE as in the same or somewhat closely in the same biblical and theological place is surely not historical to my mind! And I as a classic, reformed and evangelical Anglican believe in the Assurance of Christian Salvation, noting the Thirty Nine Articles, as biblically modeled! Even the Wesley brothers believed in the Christian’s Assurance of Salvation also. Not to mention historically some Lutherans too! And not to mention also some Reformed Baptists like Spurgeon! Yes, the whole doctrine of Assurance is very biblical, if it is seen biblically! 🙂 This is a great dividing line both biblically & theologically!

        Liked by 1 person

        • NEO says:

          Naw, you sort of misunderstood me. Bosco is one of these who knows absolutely nothing, and thinks he is saved because, well, he say he let Jesus in the door, nothing he does now matters, and likely I didn’t phrase it well. We do have that assurance, if we do our best. I’m not having a very good day day, Fr Robert, trying to express myself, I don’t feel all that good physically, and am having a bout of depression besides. Basically, I agree with you, of course. 🙂

          Like

        • That’s okay mate, we all have our bad days! 🙂 And I myself don’t like the basic ‘once saved always saved’ modern doctrine either! If we have truly accepted Christ (been regenerated), then we will follow Christ till the end, i.e. in the doctrine of perseverance! But all by God’s Grace & Glory! Indeed there is no perfection here, but there is the desire to be what we say we are “Christian”, and somewhat “Christ-like”!

          Liked by 1 person

        • NEO says:

          Thanks, mate. Didn’t figure you did. Ain’t that the truth. 🙂

          Like

        • Btw, try reading the great hymn, Amazing Grace (of course by old John Newton). We sang it this week at a Christian funeral. God In Christ’s Amazing Grace, ‘how sweet the sound…!’ 🙂

          Liked by 1 person

        • NEO says:

          It’s a great one, all right! 🙂

          Like

  5. the unit says:

    I’m glad for the continued comment discussion between you both, Fr. Robert and NEO. That’s just about completely my understanding from my upbringing as Southern Baptist. Historical theology simple…Mama said! 🙂 Of course I’ve mentioned that to y’all before way back yonder.
    As far once saved always saved, the definitive point is that the once really happened. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    • NEO says:

      Good point there! 🙂

      Like

      • Amen! And no antinomianism here! i.e.the loss of the Moral Law of God! In reality the Moral Law of God is in both Testaments of Covenants! Old Bosco perhaps needs to hear this? But, of course will he listen, and obey God? Not me or any of us for sure!

        Liked by 1 person

        • *or

          Liked by 1 person

        • Btw, I don’t really don’t disagree with a good so-called Eternal Security Biblical statement! Without the Mediatorship of “Christ Jesus” none of us would stay the course! (1 Tim. 2: 5-6) See also Job 9: 32-35 ; 19: 25! In Reformed Theology we call Christ’s Intercession as HIS “Sessions” before the Father! And HE speaks our name there before the face of God the Father! Talk about “Glory”! 🙂

          Liked by 1 person

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